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The State Decoded Aims to Make State Laws Accessible

 

State laws are written for and by attorneys. While that might make for a good legal system, it sure makes them hard for regular people to understand. There's code law -- what law books are full of -- and then there's case law, which is how the laws are actually interpreted by courts.

Every time each state's legislature meets, they propose thousands of bills that would amend those laws. Attorney generals routinely write opinions about how laws should be interpreted. Law journals publish long articles exploring what laws mean. All of these sources and others still are more than many attorneys can keep up with, even with their paid access to expensive legal informatics systems. How is an average citizen supposed to figure out how to interpret the law?

It was this very problem that got me to start working on a solution for Virginia's laws. Over the course of a year, I've spent nights and weekends working on a website that would pull together all of these strands in a way that non-attorneys can understand, presenting all relevant data about each section of the law on a single page. Although I have a long-standing personal interest in the law, I am not an attorney. Luckily, I am a programmer.

When that website was mostly finished, I'd come to realize that it could be useful to folks in other states. My application to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's News Challenge proposed doing just that -- turning my code into a standard software package, identifying groups in states throughout the country that could implement it, and then working with them to get it set up. I was lucky enough to be selected to receive a 2011 News Challenge grant, which will allow me to spend a year and a half as a sort of a Johnny Appleseed of open government, spreading accessible state laws throughout the United States. I call that project "The State Decoded."

So what, specifically, does The State Decoded do that's so great? Here are a few features of note:

 

Embedded definitions: Essential to understanding the law is understanding the definitions of words. It's one thing to know that it's illegal to "play amplified music downtown after 11 p.m. on weeknights," and it's another to know that "amplified music" is defined as "sound that is made louder through means of electrical enhancement," that "downtown" is defined as "the area bounded by Main Street, 3rd Street, 8th Street, and Water Street," and that "weeknights" are "Sunday through Thursday." The State Decoded automatically locates those definitions within the code and displays them when each defined term is hovered over with the mouse.

Tagging: Laws frequently do not use the words that most people would expect. Somebody looking for laws on "theft" might come up short if they didn't know that "larceny" was the term they needed. By allowing people to tag the law prohibiting larceny with the word "theft," future visitors will find that law when they search for the more obvious term.

Automatic cross-references: Sometimes related laws are separated by hundreds or thousands of others, and it can be difficult to connect those dots. By analyzing which laws refer to others, share a lot of the same tags, tend to be amended by the same bills, and are inclined to be looked at by the same people, somebody looking at one law receives recommendations of others that are related to the current one.

A rich application programming interface: All the data stored within the site is available programmatically, so that website developers can use any of that information for their own purposes on their own websites.

Most of these features are already in place on the Virginia site, which is currently in private alpha testing. There's been a surprisingly enthusiastic response from groups across the country so far, and these days my nights and weekends are spent not on programming, but on helping folks in other states figure out how to prepare to implement The State Decoded for their laws. Once the Knight Foundation grant kicks in, development will go full-time, and my updates here on Idea Lab will be full of descriptions of fun, new features and interesting discoveries about the quirks of state laws. I look forward to your questions and comments about this project.

Movieclips was good, now it’s great. And the fact that its range of movie clips (as the name implies) will now be seen on YouTube means it’s about to go mainstream in a big way.

Movieclips

I first covered Movieclips almost two years ago when it first launched in the U.S. with a healthy 12,000 clips. There were a few issues, such as a clunky user interface and slow loading-times, but ultimately the site showed a lot of promise.

Much has happened since then. First off, the number of clips has risen to 20,000. The site has also been improved beyond reproach and the ways and means of searching for the clip you want to see via the added meta-data have been expanded.

Unfortunately Disney is still not on board, which means Movieclips is still missing content from one of the major studios. Still, six out of seven isn’t bad. There’s also the little matter of a new round of funding worth $7 million and some even bigger news…

Movieclips On YouTube

Movieclips has landed a partnership deal with YouTube which brings its content to the Google-owned site. The hope is to provide for movies what Vevo does for music videos and Machinima does for gaming videos.

Movieclips now has an official page on YouTube and also features on the site’s Movies page. The clips are seen as an enticement to people to rent full films. Kind of like a try before you buy deal.

Movieclips has plans to expand from this point forward, both in terms of the number of clips available, and the range of content. We’re talking trailers, interviews with movie stars, and behind-the-scenes footage being added for good measure.

Conclusions

This deal is good for all parties. Movieclips gets exposure most companies would kill for, YouTube gets a premium new content-provider, and the movie studios get to control the clips being uploaded on the Web. And all three make money from sharing the revenue from adverts.

Oh, and we, as movie lovers, get to see high quality clips of the most memorable scenes from our favorite films for free. What’s not to love?


Apple Set To Launch iTunes Replay | Re-downloading/Streaming Movies & TV Shows

Posted: 03 Aug 2011 08:45 PM PDT

Apple could be preparing to launch a new feature on iTunes allowing people to re-download or stream content they’ve previously bought. And that could be just the first streaming element making its way to iTunes as we all switch from downloading to utilizing the cloud.

Streaming iTunes

Apple has been rumored to be launching some kind of streaming video service for two years or more, but nothing has ever been officially announced or even teased. And it still hasn’t, but there are new rumors for us to sink our teeth into and explore.

As great as iTunes is, it’s currently all about downloads. You buy content, you get to download and watch it. But streaming is the new black, with services such as Netflix and Hulu, and even Spotify (for music) all doing great business.

For Apple to remain on top it really needs to introduce streaming options to iTunes.

iTunes Replay

According to sources talking to AppAdvice, it could already be on its way to doing so. Internally codenamed iTunes Replay, the extension to the usual iTunes service will allow consumers to at least re-download movies or TV shows they have previously purchased, and possibly stream it as well.

Not all content will be eligible for iTunes Replay, with a logo indicating what is and what isn’t. This will be due to licensing issues, and depend which studios and content providers Apple has managed to secure deals with. For the same reasons most content will only be available for download five times.

This is merely rumor at this stage, but there does appear to be some truth behind the speculation. The streaming aspect is mired in hearsay, however, so I’ll only believe that when I see it.

Conclusions

Apple should have been on board and making deals for streaming content a long time ago but seems to have missed the boat in an unusual display of not seeing the future by Steve Jobs, Esq.

Does iTunes Replay go far enough? Probably not, but it is at least a start.

Solar panels mounted on poles capture power from the sun throughout the day;

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) plans to continue his advocacy of alternative energy Monday morning, promoting a two-fer of sorts: electric car-charging stations powered by solar energy.

O’Malley is scheduled to appear in Bethesda with Montgomery County officials and others at an event touting a “Solar Power Pole car-charging system” developed by a Columbia-based company.

Advanced Technology & Research Corp. says its devices, which the company is manufacturing and assembling in Maryland, are the first of their kind. Solar panels mounted on poles capture power from the sun throughout the day, generating enough energy to charge two vehicles at a time, according to the company.

O’Malley has sponsored several measures in recent legislative sessions intended to spur the use both of electric cars and solar power in Maryland. In April, he drove a Chevy Volt to highlight the introduction of eight new electric-car charging stations at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.

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It seems as if every other story has been about the war between the iPhone and Android. Paul Sakuma/ASSOCIATED PRESS -

 

For the past two years, it seems as if every other story in the mobile space has been about the war between the iPhone and Android. Heck, though it wasn’t technically the theme of our Mobile First CrunchUp last week, that’s all anyone wanted to talk about there as well.

It’s a sexy story because it features two companies, Apple and Google, that could not be any more different. And now they’re the two companies dominating the mobile landscape. And the cherry on top is that they used to be close allies. They’re Erik Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier.

Four years ago, Apple came out of quite literally nowhere (in the mobile phone space) and completely up-ended the industry. But in the past couple of years, they’ve watched their former ally take command in terms of market share. This has been the story that everyone keeps talking about — including Apple, which routinely takes thinly-veiled swipes at Google for what they often imply are misleading numbers, like activations-per-day.

But part of me wonders if that’s not just Apple applying some very clever reverse-psychology and manipulation. The media is naturally distracted by big numbers, and Apple might be just fine ceding that story (while pretending they care, mind you, to keep us interested) while they take the real prize.

Again, the profits.

While you can find dozens of stories each week about how Android is now dominating mobile, and poised for further domination as the rest of the world continues the move to smartphones, most overlook what is perhaps the more important story. To find that, all you have to do is follow Horace Dediu’s excellent Asymco blog.

There, you’ll find stories and data like this one from earlier today: Apple share of phone revenues increased to 28%. As Dediu’s data shows, Apple now makes more revenue in the mobile space than all of their competitors. This list includes HTC, RIM, LG, Sony-Ericsson, Samsung Motorola, and Nokia.

Apple’s share in this regard has doubled since the end of 2009, right about when Android began to take hold. And while plenty of the aforementioned competitors now make Android devices, only HTC has seen any sort of significant increase in revenue share over the same span — and their share is nothing like Apple’s.

But again, that’s not even the real story either. The real story is the number briefly highlighted in Dediu’s chart above, but more fully explored a few days ago here: Apple captured two thirds of available mobile phone profits in Q2.

Take a moment to let that sink in. Apple now controls over 66 percent of all the profits amongst the major players in the mobile space. HTC, RIM, LG, Sony-Ericsson, Samsung Motorola, and Nokia combined for the other 33 or so percent of profits in the space (with a few of them: Nokia, Motorola, LG, and Sony actually losing money).

Apple, the company “losing” the great mobile race to Android, is destroying all the Android manufacturers combined when it comes to profits. You know, the money you get to keep at the end of the day. In business terms, really the only thing that matters.

While everyone is distracted by the raw numbers battle, Apple is quietly winning the real war.

Obviously, Google is nowhere to be seen in these numbers because they don’t actually make the Android phones, just the OS that powers them. If you were to include them on the profit chart, they’d be a tiny sliver. As big as Android has gotten, Google still doesn’t make much money off of the OS — at least nothing near what Apple is seeing quarter to quarter from the iPhone.

Sure, you could argue that if Android continues to eat up market share, eventually, they should win over developers which could lead to Android phones ultimately making more money than the iPhone. But two years after Android started “winning”, there are absolutely no signs of that actually happening. Instead, the opposite is happening. Apple’s profit dominance continues to grow with each quarter.

Further, I’m not so sure that Android’s market share is going to continue to grow once the iPhone 5 launches on both Verizon and AT&T in the U.S. and dozens of other carriers around the world. There are already plenty of signs that Android’s march is slowing and/or stopped. And if the rumors of a lower-cost iPhone are accurate, Apple’s massive growth in places like China may be just the beginning.

But I think Apple is just fine having everyone believe that Android is dominating the mobile space. They’re wiping their tears of defeat with cold hard cash.

By TechCrunch.com, Updated: Wednesday, August 3,2011